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Analysis of Much Madness is Divinest Sense by Emily Dickinson

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In 'Much Madness is divinest Sense' (435), a definition poem, Emily Dickinson criticizes society's inability to accept rebellion, arguing that the majority is the side that should in fact be considered 'mad.' The perception of madness and insanity are a common theme among Dickinson's poetry, as she fought against society's tainted view of herself as crazy. She focuses on how judgmental society is on non conformist views when she describes the majority as 'discerning' (line 2). As similar to most of her poetry, she writes in iambic meter and uses slant rhyme, as lines one, three, and seven end with 'Sense', 'Madness', 'dangerous', and lines six and eight, in 'sane' and 'Chain' in seemingly rhyme scheme. Dickinson credits the majority with prevailing, however, anyone who disagrees is considered a threat to society and sentenced to punishment.

MacDonald agues that 'Much Madness in divinest Sense,' (435) features one of Dickinson?s more disturbing themes, using ?dark imagery of confinement and fear? (1) to draw the reader into the subject of madness. A division between society?s view of acceptable and appropriate is made between that which is considered against the norm, or mad. Tying into a current issue at the time MacDonald suggests among contemporary writers of the time, Dickinson?s poetry is in response to the Civil War, as it questions ?the purity of the nation,? (1) challenging readers to understand the sanity of the war itself. However, this critique does not limit Dickinson?s poem in response to the Civil War, as ?madness? can suggest more than simply the immorality of slavery in the late 1880s. This ?madness? is also compared with the normalcy during the 1800s that ?women should marry and lead lives for the benef...


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...fined only by authority. Dickinson does not conform to society?s norm with her slanted rhyme scheme, random capitalization, and peculiar use of punctuation, fitting herself into the society?s view of ?mad?. She illustrates to the reader that individually, we have the choice whether or not to choose the desires set for ourselves or conform to the desires others have for us. Through her writing Dickinson also proves the awareness she had of the perception society held of her.

Works Cited:
Kattleman, Beth. Poetry for Students, Vol. 16, Gale 2002. Critical Essay
Source Database: Literature Resource Center

MacDonald, Deneka Candace. Poetry for Students, Vol. 16, Gale 2002. Critical Essay
Source Database: Literature Resource Center

Oates, Joyce Carol. Soul at the White Heat: The Romance of Emily Dickinson?s Poetry.
Vol. 13, No. 4. 1987. pp. 806-824.

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